As the knife-edge of business closure creeps ever closer for many businesses, the light at the end of the tunnel can feel very dim and distant. The reality of the effects of the pandemic and the consequent shutdowns are affecting the very way that business operates and it’s easy to feel completely helpless to change any of it.
Inevitably I have been wondering what I would do should my business close. Assuming I had exhausted all possibilities for generating an income, I would have to look at my options for returning to a regular job. Yet I would probably still keep writing a blog, and I would probably continue to follow business news with interest. I might design another website ‘just for fun’. And I would no doubt continue to dream up new business ideas because after all these years, that’s a habit that is hard to break.
‘How interesting,’ I thought. ‘I’d probably just keep doing the same things that I used to do in the business, just not WITHIN a business.’
My lightbulb moment…
And suddenly, I saw my problem differently! I saw that even without a business, all the mental maps that I had developed for how to run a business and create new ideas would not just stop overnight. I had embedded neural wiring that would continue to expand even if the external physical business structures around me ceased to exist. My business was created by mental maps formed by my thinking and not by the physical location and hardware of the actual business operation.
In fact, it occurred to me that my business had effectively ‘ended’ three times already, only for me to continue working on it as though it was still a functioning entity.
One challenging year I shattered my ankle so badly I barely escaped amputation. I was confined to a wheelchair for 8 weeks which forced me to cancel 6 months of work during the rehab and recovery phase.
Then there was the global financial crisis in 2007-8 which wiped out all my contracts for 12 months, leaving me with the sole parent pension and small jobs until I could restart the business.
And more recently I became a carer for an elderly relative which again closed the business for 6 months until that situation could shift. (Women are amazingly good at adapting to the needs of family while holding down a business!) But in all these situations, I had never stopped planning and dreaming up ways to restart it again.
So when I realised that even if I was faced with business closure tomorrow, I would do this work anyway, I saw the whole situation in a new light.
Would you do it anyway?
I realised I would do the work for love if I couldn’t do it for money; not because what I do is so important but because it is part of my creative spirit to do it. It’s the internal part of me that can’t be killed off when a business structure falls over, or my body is injured, or a relative’s body fails. In other words, I’m not dependent on anyone or anything else for getting my work out into the world – I only need the desire to continue to do it.
And I bet I’m not the only one.
- A chef without a business will cook great food anyway because she loves to cook.
- A mechanic without a business will fix cars anyway because it’s fun and enjoyable to do.
- An artist without a business will draw anyway.
- An actor without a business will act anyway.
- A yoga teacher without a business will teach yoga anyway.
Your business might close tomorrow but many of you will keep doing what you love to do anyway. Because the stuff you love to do that led you to set up a business in the first place, comes from YOU. Not from a business or tax structure. Not from the brand or the technology or the logo. These are inanimate objects and they all come from you. And not having a business will not stop you from creating work that you love to do.
But business is about money…
Money does appear to be the stumbling block to this moment of insight. ‘Sure, I can keep doing what I love to do, but that won’t pay the bills’ I hear you say. Other businesses seem to need the bricks and morter to exist. Without the cafe location, the cafe doesn’t exist.
As I mentioned in my last blog, the belief that business has to look a certain way, or operate a certain way, is a belief that the form dictates what the content. In other words, that unless the business has the shop or the location then it can’t be what you want it to be.
As much as we love our businesses, we can forget that we constructed them initially out of nothing. You started with an idea, a vision for the future and some cash. You built all the rest out of that vision – from the ground up in many cases – and even if you bought a going concern, you shaped it your way, with your ideas.
When a business is a structure for legal and tax purposes, we tend to formalise it further by putting more structures around it – walls if you have a shopfront, technology, office space, equipment and employees to name a few. But the pandemic has clearly illustrated that we don’t always need the structures to have a business. We don’t need the office if we can work from home. We don’t need the shop if we can shift online. We don’t need the fixed location if the location can be mobile. (One of my favourite mobile businesses is the gluten free donut guy who turns up in all kinds of locations for me to happily discover!).
But when the structures we created start to wobble, it’s common to feel shock and disbelief. All those physical things we added felt so solid. They felt like the heart and soul of ‘us’. When they wobble, it makes us feel wobbly too. Business owners are encouraged to ‘become the brand’ and to market ourselves as our business. Therefore, it’s no surprise that our identity wobbles along with the structures when things get shaken up. I know I have asked myself repeatedly, ‘What will I do? Who will I be if I don’t have the business?’
Don’t reach for a limiting belief
The danger of an unrecognised belief is that you can’t change it until you see it. I refer to beliefs often in my blogs because beliefs pin us to the fixed way that we see the world.
One belief I have only recently seen, is that I need a business in order to be independent and to express myself individually. When business is going well, this belief seems to offer me a stable outlook on life. But Coronavirus has certainly taught me that if I tie my sense of ‘who I am’ to the business through this belief, then the opposite belief must also be true. That without the business, I won’t be independent and will not have the freedom to express myself in the way that business allows. And that’s a pretty limiting belief for me to be acting from in the future, particularly if the business closes.
Do you think that your business enables you to be the inventive, clever, loving, creative, adventurous spirit you are?
Are you asking yourself, ‘Will I still be this person if I don’t have a business in the future?’
The belief that your business defines who you are is a limiting belief. You become limited by the idea that you need the business to be all that you can be. However, if you see yourself as completely separate to the business you created, then you have the freedom to let it go without believing you will disappear along with it.
The end of the business will not be the end of you.
You are not your business
The ideas that you generate every day to make your business happen do not live inside the business. They live inside YOU. Your creative spirit and drive reside in you, not in the office or the technology or even inside the employees of your business. You made the business; it didn’t make you. If the business closes it simply means that the structure has ended, not you. And a closure definitely does not end your ability to find other ways to make an income.
You do not need the safety of your business walls to have ‘permission’ to do the work you do. You can walk away from the traditional fixed concept of what business ‘is’ and ‘is not’ and reinvent it entirely. Literally, you can walk out of the prison that a business structure can sometimes become, and free yourself to continue to do whatever you want to do, without the belief that you need a particular structure to keep doing it.
If you do that, you might open up to ideas to pivot the business you have. Maybe you take a paid job while still doing what you love on the side until the economy turns around. It might be the same business but re-imagined in a new way. It might be in another business that has adapted to the changes that are forecast without as many of the formal structures that you previously depended on. If you built one thing out of nothing, you can build another, and another.
Choose not to go down with the ship
After watching far too much business news lately, I liken the current state of the business economy to the sinking of the Titanic. It takes a little while for the structure to take on water but once it starts to sink it’s got a long way to go before it hits the bottom.
In this ABC News report, Peter Strong, the chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) said, “What we want to see is businesses close coherently, so that the owner of the business, she or he keeps their house and they keep their mental health so they can open again in a year’s time or six months’ time — because successful business people will go back to running a business.”
That’s good advice. If you choose to see yourself tied to the flagpole and going down with the ship you can. That’s a choice many people are making now. But I would argue that you are not the ship – you simply built it. On the journey it hit an iceberg that no one saw ahead, and maybe now you have to watch your hard work sink under the water and bid it goodbye. You, however, are safe on the shore. There is grief that comes from watching something you created with love and dedication disappear, but you remain the creative spirit that you were when you first decided that building a business was something that you wanted to do.
If you built one business, you can build another. And if you decide not to build another, you are not limited by a business structure being in place to do what you love. Maybe you don’t make money from this. Maybe you keep doing it for love alone. There is great freedom in knowing that the ship that once tethered you to a particular port has sailed or sunk, because now you have all the options in the world as to where to go next.